73 miles (117 km) – Total so far: 2,795 miles (4,498 km)
The Teton range inside Grand Teton National Park is comprised of about a dozen peaks, ranging from just under 11,000 feet to just over 12,000 feet, with the single peak of Grand Teton itself towering over it’s brothers at 13,770. These are big mountains, but compared to the numerous 14k footers in Colorado, they are quite a bit shorter. What makes these mountains so dramatic is the long plain of scrubby grassland to the East runs for miles before abruptly hitting the feet of the mountains. There are no foothills here. The only barrier between the plains and the mountains are a series of crystal clear lakes that had been carved out by millennia of glacier movement at the base of the mountains.
One such lake, Jenny Lake, sits nestled at the bottom of the Cascade Canyon, which splits the majestic Grant Teton on the South from Rockchuck Mountain to the North. Jenny Lake is the most beautiful, serene, and majestic place I’ve ever seen. This is my fourth visit here. Each of my previous three adventures here was unique and full of wonder and awe at the beauty and majesty of our world.
My last visit here was in 2007 with four friends. We drove in a minivan from Chicago in a single non-stop trip to maximize the week we had to enjoy the area. We attempted to divine the solutions to world problems in late night fireside chats. We hiked 20+ mile days into the canyons to the West side of the range, dangerously stretching the safe limits of a “day hike” without much contingency equipment. But most significantly, on our last day here, I wandered over to the “Cyclist Only” campground right near the entrance at the prime location of the campground.
It was here in this cycling only campground that I learned about the concept of cycle touring. I was flabbergasted by the idea that someone could ride hundreds or even thousands of miles with their camping equipment. Up to this point I had spent a lot of time daydreaming about hiking the Appalachian Trail, but it was here at Grand Teton park that the desire to quit my job and ride across the country really took hold. That desire grew from and idea, to a longing, and then finally a plan in the intervening years.
A thunderstorm has rolled in. I’m sitting in my tent listening to the rain gently pattering away just above my head. I could be in any of the dozens of campgrounds I’ve used over the last two months. There really is no discerning feature from my current vantage point inside my blue nylon walls that distinguishes this place from those. But I know. I know that I’m in Grand Teton Park. I rode my bike here from the Atlantic Ocean like I promised myself I would seven years ago.
Like most of this trip, getting here yesterday was a challenge and a pleasure. We got started late, and stopped often. The 2,700 ft ascent to Togwotee Pass was one of the longest single day climbs of the trip. The grade was moderate at 6% for most of the climb, but by this point, Paul and I are strong enough to make the climb with minimal drama. Terry, aka The Cylon, has been in good enough shape from day one.
We were all on the lookout for wildlife, and kudos to Terry’s eagle eyes for spotting a Moose in the midst of some heavy brush. We sat dumbfounded for about 20 minutes as the Moose violently tore chunks of bushes apart. Then, just as she turned to go, a little calf that had been hidden by the brush bounded out beside her and into the trees. Baby moose sure are cute!
Just after cresting the pass Terry and Paul spotted yet another brown tree stump in the distance. But this time it moved. Binoculars revealed not one, but two bears about a mile and a half away. The tell tale light ridge on the shoulders confirmed that we were looking at a Grizzly mama and her cub. Not the kind of thing a person usually lingers around, but with a mile between us, and a 6% downhill grade to escape on, we had the unique position of being close enough to see the bears, not enclosed in a car, and yet still able to outrun them. Exhilarating.
At this point, it was 4:00 PM and we still had 45 miles to get to the campground. The campgrounds fill up early in the Tetons, so I shot out ahead anxious to secure my spot. Even solo, I encountered delays as the approaching Tetons took shocked me with their majestic beauty around every turn. I eventually arrived to find the space filled up. Fortunately, they make exceptions for folks arriving on bikes and we were able to setup our tents outside of the tent pads on the sacrosanct ground itself.
Ah… the rain is stopping. Time to go enjoy the park.